Four artists from two different countries transcended language by using digital media, sound and their voices to convey meaning Wednesday. Part of the Contemporary Writers Reading Series, sponsored by the literary arts department, the show used sound poetry, digital literature and performance to engage the audience and encourage them to question their approach to language.
The show began with a paragraph projected onto a screen. Writer and artist Benjamin Moreno used a mouse to click a letter, and a voice pronounced the sound of the letter out loud. It was a Spanish poem, and consequently all sounds were in Spanish. He moved faster and faster to the point where all the letters were wriggling and "speaking" to the audience. Suddenly it became a giant black ball, making soft gunshot-like sounds, with lines expanding out of it.
Throughout all of this, writer Minerva Reynosa was standing in the spotlight in front of a microphone. She began reciting the poem, repeating it over and over, emphasizing certain words and phrases. In the background the ball followed the mouse along, splitting and coming together as the sound continued. Slowly, the letters reappeared, she stopped speaking, and the performance ended with just the letters "speaking" to the audience once more.
Reynosa is the wife of Moreno, who was working the computer that controlled the letters. Moreno is a programmer in the process of earning an MFA in electronic writing. Moreno said he decided to pull together the show when he learned that Ricardo Castillo, a poet from Mexico renowned for his work in sound poetry, was coming to Providence. Moreno said he is interested in "sound as language - using the body and voice to convey meaning and using digital visuals to expand language."
"The 20th century poetry range widened to include other forms of poetry art," which incorporates sound poetry, he said.
In the second piece, artist Chris Novello sat on a chair, a computer at his feet and a box with knobs on it on his knee. Around his shoulders was a black tube, which he inserted into his mouth. His voice sounded as if it were coming out of an old television. He also repeated a paragraph as he moved his mouth around the tube. Then he gagged, taking the tube out for a moment before reinserting it. It was hard to know if it was part of the act, as he laughed it off and shook his head. Music began playing, and it appeared as though he was singing, swaying his body to the rhythm of an old love song. He coughed, took the tube out and stood up to the applause of the audience.
Novello later explained to curious audience members that he had recorded a reading of Rene Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" works earlier and played it through a computer, through the talk box. He then shoved the tube down his throat at the end of each sentence to put his own voice back in his body, he told The Herald. Novello said he is also studying to get his MFA in electronic writing, adding that he was interested in making "statements with and about language using technology."
The last performer was Castillo, who used only his body and voice to convey his meaning. He spoke in Spanish, accentuating words and moving his body to help those in the audience who did not speak Spanish understand his message. As a sound poet, he used the choreography of his body in conjunction with the accentuation of his voice to employ a different style of poetry.